By Richard Asinof
PROVIDENCE â€“ As part of the rollout of the new Rhode Island 2013 Community Health Needs Assessment and the new website, www.rihealthcarematters.org, the Hospital Association of Rhode Island and the R.I. Department of Health handed out blue squeezable stress balls, indicative of one of the major findings: Rhode Island has a problem with its mental health.
The finding was among the â€śunfavorable statisticsâ€ť compiled by Holleran Consulting, the Mountville, Penn., firm hired to conduct the 2013 R.I. Community Health Needs Assessment, a requirement of the Affordable Care Act.
Holleranâ€™s study found that 22 percent, nearly one-fifth of Rhode Islanders, had been told that they had a depressive disorder, compared to an average of 16.8 percent nationally, according to Colleen Milligan, director of Health & Human Services at Holleran.
In a similar finding, 15.4 percent of Rhode Islanders answered that poor physical or mental health kept them for doing their usual activities between 15 and 30 days during past month.
In a follow-up, Holleran conducted in-depth interviews telephone interviews with 49 local health and human service professionals and community leaders, who said that the top two â€śkey health issuesâ€ť were access to health care (82 percent) and mental health/suicide (47 percent), according to the report. In terms of resources needed, 23 of the 49 leaders named mental health services.
In response, Holleran conducted two focus groups with mental health experts, providers and referral services, which identified coordination of services, insurance restrictions and access to care.
The next steps are prioritization of â€śopportunitiesâ€ť and then implementation, according to Michael R. Souza, senior vice president at HARI, addressing the 50 people who had gathered to hear the presentation at Women & Infants Hospital on May 1.
In addition, non-profit hospitals in Rhode Island are required to prepare their own individual community health needs assessment, based upon the work done as part of the statewide assessment, and submit it to federal regulators by Sept. 30, or face a $50,000 fine.
All of the information collected in comparison to U.S. health statistics is available on the new website, breaking down the data by county and health need.
Virginia M. Burke, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Health Care Association, praised the effort. â€śSo much of health care policy has been the result of anecdotal information, or based on intuition. And, our intuition is often wrong. Now, we are creating a way to measure our community health needs,â€ť she told the Providence Business News after the event.
At the same time, Burke also raised the issue of granularity regarding the initial statewide community needs assessment, and the lack of detail about Rhode Islandâ€™s aging populationâ€™s needs.
Dr. Michael Fine, director of the R.I. Department of Health, said that the community needs assessment was a starting point, not an end point. When asked about the absence of specific information in the study about abuse of prescription painkillers and elevated levels of lead in blood in schoolchildren, Fine acknowledged that there was need to drill deeper. â€śThis is a starting pint,â€ť he said.
At the end of the event, Fine praised the collaboration between the hospitals and the health department, quoting the Humphrey Bogart character, Rick, in the movie â€śCasablancaâ€ť: â€śI think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.â€ť